Going into Hoopfest 2023, I was just hoping for a win. When the dust settled on Sunday, I felt like our team scored many more victories than just quadrupling the on-court win total I was crossing my fingers for.
How It Went Down On The Court
What an experience this past weekend was. The St. Mary Squad started off the tournament on Saturday morning with a tough 20-15 loss to the Rez Runnaz. We knew the team we played was pretty decent and didn’t let the small setback get us down. We would win our 12:30 p.m. game (20-14) and then return the next day ready for a big run.
Our team notched two comfortable victories early Sunday morning and then held on for a victory at noon to successfully seal our loser’s bracket odyssey to the championship game. For the title we played our opening round opponent—the Rez Runnaz. After playing three games seemingly back-to-back-to-back we had little gas left in the tank for the team that was undefeated and had last played at 10 a.m. Although we fell short, we had secured second place and a coveted finalist t-shirt.
But just a little bit of context about all those victories: I didn’t have too much to do with them. My St. Mary Squad teammates and fellow Young Adult Catholic members were simply spectacular. Everything started with our lead scorer and athletic specimen JJ Nazzaro. Then we had our 2-point ace Ryan Andrade who would answer the 1-point baskets of our opponents with bombs from downtown. Last but definitely not least, we had our team’s heart and soul—Amy Martin. Because of Hoopfest co-ed rules, a member of the opposite sex must always be on the court so that meant Amy played every single minute of all six games we competed in. Not only did she have the guts to go the distance, but she was an incredible contributor on both sides of the ball and never stopped hustling.
Me? I was the fourth man who would give JJ and Ryan breaks while trying to play some defense and pull down a rebound or two. It was an honor to share the court with my teammates.
Playing For More Than Hoopfest Glory
But enough about our on-court exploits and team scouting report. Hoopfest 2023 was so special because our St. Mary team was playing for more than a t-shirt.
Our team came together because we wanted to give thanks to God, pay special devotion to our Blessed Mother, and promote the Catholic faith. Helping us with this mission was Fr. Jeff Lewis, our pastor at St. Mary in Spokane Valley. At coffee and donuts one Sunday as our team was starting to come together, Fr. Jeff said that St. Mary would sponsor us once our roster was finalized. However, our dedicated priest did so much more than just make sure that our registration and uniforms were paid for.
Fr. Jeff rode the shuttle downtown with us, cheered our team on from the sidelines, and hung out with us after the games. But most importantly, he was there as our dedicated team chaplain. He led us in prayer before/after each game, had the materials in his pocket to distribute the anointing of the sick if needed, and was on-hand to give blessings and answer questions to the numerous people who approached him. Regarding prayer, as Ryan said, it was such a peaceful way to begin and end competition while at the same time drawing other people in. In fact, before the tournament was over, we had everyone praying with us from an opponent to our kids to the court monitor.
This mission to put God before Hoopfest glory motivated those associated with our team to make sacrifices. Fr. Jeff gave up his Sunday morning masses to accompany us. Ryan and JJ both left their close-knit Hoopfest teams to play for the St. Mary Squad. And Amy played through serious knee issues. What selfless commitments from some truly great people.
Because we were all so invested in this opportunity, it came as no surprise that we had such a fulfilling experience that went beyond the streets of downtown Spokane. Prior to this weekend, we got together for a couple of practices. We also had a lively text thread that was full of planning, joking, and anticipating (sorry for all the countdown texts, guys).
Between our first and second games on Saturday, Sidney provided us all refuge from the heat by taking us to the break room of her work which happens to be in the heart of the downtown area. The four of us, some of our families, Fr. Jeff, and Fr. David Gaines took time to just relax and chat. Some of this break was spent talking about faith matters and some of it was spent talking about other things. But it all equated to some really nice fellowship.
Later that night, Sidney and I hosted a cookout at our house. Once again, us players and our families came together for more fellowship on a beautiful evening. In fact, do you want to know how close this Hoopfest experience has brought us together? We were all comfortable enough to play the game Stir the Pot as a big group. Don’t know what that is? Look it up! 😂
Finally, the icing on the cake was that when the tournament was over, we gathered for mass that night. With Fr. Jeff’s permission, we wore our finalist t-shirts to the service and he even incorporated our team’s Hoopfest success into his homily.
Before I close out this post, just a few shout outs: First and foremost, thanks to our families. Whether they were supporting us at the games or watching children at home, I know the four of us really appreciated the opportunity to concentrate on our six games we played throughout the weekend. Thanks to our spectacular court monitor, Keith Miner, and his daughter/scorekeeper, Maddie, for taking such superb care of our bracket. These fellow St. Mary parishioners always kept everything under control and applied all the rules perfectly. And finally, thanks to St. Mary for the sponsorship of our team.
I am grateful for the special Hoopfest opportunity I had this year. Amy, JJ, and Ryan…thanks for making our team work and for putting up with my less than stellar basketball skills. Fr. Jeff…you went above and beyond for us, thank you. Now, with all that said, who is sore?!
Thanks be to God. Don’t Blink.